Real Men Pray

My father was a tough guy. A war veteran right out of the John Wayne/Ted Williams mold. A man who never complained about pain and worked hard every day. And I grew up watching the toughest man I ever met pray. Often.

To me, it was what real men did. He wore a scapular, attended daily Mass, and prayed the rosary for the souls in purgatory almost incessantly. And there's something about seeing the strongest person you know get down on his knees that helps to shape a child to learn what being a man is about.

I tell you this because I just read an interview with Cardinal Raymond Burke who made headlines discussing the issue that many men no longer feel at home in the Church. I know that saying Cardinal Burke made headlines is like saying the sun came up today. Or dog bites man. Cardinal Raymond Burke makes headlines. That's what he does. Why? Because he says what he believes and doesn't qualify, back off, or soften his points. I personally love him for that.

Unfortunately, many don't.

And because of that, Cardinal Burke makes comboxes blow up. And too often the result is that the comboxes become about Cardinal Burke and not about the issues he actually raised. And as we know, in Catholic comboxes, you can start arguing one issue and then so many other issues get lumped in and the same old lines are drawn and communication breaks down.

In this most recent case, Cardinal Burke said that radical feminism has not only feminized men in general but feminized the Church. In an interview with The New Emangeliztion (one of the most awesome names for a group ever), Cardinal Burke was asked about the state of men in the Church. He responded at length:

I think there has been a great confusion with regard to the specific vocation of men in marriage and of men in general in the Church during the past 50 years or so. It’s due to a number of factors, but the radical feminism which has assaulted the Church and society since the 1960s has left men very marginalized. Unfortunately, the radical feminist movement strongly influenced the Church, leading the Church to constantly address women’s issues at the expense of addressing critical issues important to men; the importance of the father, whether in the union of marriage or not; the importance of a father to children; the importance of fatherhood for priests; the critical impact of a manly character; the emphasis on the particular gifts that God gives to men for the good of the whole society.
The goodness and importance of men became very obscured, and for all practical purposes, were not emphasized at all. This is despite the fact that it was a long tradition in the Church, especially through the devotion of St. Joseph, to stress the manly character of the man who sacrifices his life for the sake of the home, who prepares with chivalry to defend his wife and his children and who works to provide the livelihood for the family. So much of this tradition of heralding the heroic nature of manhood has been lost in the Church today. All of those virtuous characteristics of the male sex are very important for a child to observe as they grow up and mature. The healthy relationship with the father helps the child to prepare to move from the intimate love of the mother, building a discipline so that the child can avoid excessive self‑love. This ensures that the child is able to identify himself or herself properly as a person in relationship with others; this is critical for both boys and girls. A child’s relationship with their father is key to a child’s self‑identification, which takes places when we are growing up. We need that very close and affirming relationship with the mother, but at the same time, it is the relationship with the father, which is of its nature more distant but not less loving, which disciplines our lives. It teaches a child to lead a selfless life, ready to embrace whatever sacrifices are necessary to be true to God and to one another...
The crisis between man and woman has been made much worse by a complete collapse of catechesis in the Church. Young men grew up without proper instruction with regard to their faith and to the knowledge of their vocation. Young men were not being taught that they are made in the image of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These young men were not taught to know all those virtues that are necessary in order to be a man and to fulfill the particular gifts of being male. Making things worse, there was a very fluffy, superficial kind of catechetical approach to the question of human sexuality and the nature of the marital relationship. At the same time, in society, there came an explosion of pornography, which is particularly corrosive for men because it terribly distorts the whole reality of human sexuality. It leads men and women to view their human sexuality apart from a relationship between a man and woman in marriage. In truth, the gift of sexual attraction is directed toward marriage, and any kind of sexual union belongs properly only within marriage. But the whole world of pornography corrupts young people into believing that their sexual capacity is for their own entertainment and pleasure, and becomes a consuming lust, which is one of the seven capital sins. The gift of human sexuality is turned into a means of self‑gratification often at the expense of another person, whether in heterosexual relations or in homosexual relations. A man who has not been formed with a proper identity as a man and as a father figure will ultimately become very unhappy. These poorly formed men become addicted to pornography, sexual promiscuity, alcohol, drugs, and the whole gamut of addictions. Also, in this whole mix…am I talking too much?

So is Cardinal Burke talking too much? No. But are we listening or are we just digging in and fortifying our arguments.

I was speaking about Cardinal Burke's interview with a woman who is a teacher at a Catholic school. She seemed knowledgeable and agreed with much of what he had said but then she added, "But what is feminine and masculine? Isn't that a little subjective?" And that right there is a problem. We can't even agree on terms anymore. How can we even have a conversation at this point?

So, too often, arguments and accusations take the place of conversation. But no matter the causes, it is clear that many men don't feel at home in the Church. For too many men, going to Church is something that fills the wife's hours. We've all seen fathers drop their children off at Mass and read the newspaper in the parking lot. Many young single men don't feel as if the Church speaks to them at all. There is a desperate need to catechize men. The world is groaning in want of faithful husbands, good fathers and prayerful men. And I believe it will take men to do this service in the name of the Church. Maria Cooper Janis, the daughter of the famous actor Gary Cooper wrote of her father's conversion. And to me, it's a good example of masculine behavior attracting men to the Church. She wrote:

In the mid to late fifties, my father's conversion to Catholicism started silently. He never discussed much about it but simply started joining us for Mass more often. The ostensible reason was to hear the good sermons given by a dynamic young priest, Father Harold Ford, dubbed by my father as "Father Tough Stuff." Father Ford didn't give hellfire and brimstone, but he was a very human and with-it man. My mother invited him over for a drink one afternoon, thinking there might be some deep and profound conversations about matters of the spirit. Think again! He and my father disappeared into the gun room and as far as I can tell all they talked about was hunting, fishing, and scuba diving.
Father Ford became a scuba buddy and joined us diving in the large marineland of the Pacific tank where we all cavorted with its inhabitants. My father's search for his own spiritual kingdom apparently was coming together, and after many months of learning the basics with Father Ford, and "living with the questions," he did, as Rilke so beautifully put it, "live the questions now. Then perhaps someday far in the future you will gradually, without even knowing it, live your way into the answer." Into the answer he took himself. Shirley Burden, an old and dear friend, himself a convert, was godfather at Poppa's baptism.

I think part of the issue is that hard times make hard men. I suspect that times have been pretty easy for the majority of men. And there's been so much confusion about gender roles that men don't even know what it is to be a man anymore. I understand what Cardinal Burke was saying. I believe this is a real problem in the Church and outside of it. God made us man and woman. We are both called to serve God in our own ways. Pray that we all find our way.